Seares: Aborting BRT project may not be 'stupid' but stoppage is impractical, unwise. Without scrapping, there may be ways to avert failure that struck BRT systems elsewhere.

CEBU. (From left) Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and Councilors Joy Pesquera, James Cuenco and Nestor Archival.
CEBU. (From left) Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and Councilors Joy Pesquera, James Cuenco and Nestor Archival.SunStar File

[] Mayor Rama and the Cebu City Council may look at the alleged flaws and, if true, ask experts if they can't be corrected

[] They may debate without the "offensive" word "scrap" the mayor said the councilors used

FIRST, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama didn't call "stupid" the councilors who proposed the scrapping of the Bus Rapid Transit project. Mayor Mike did say the councilors' proposal to "scrap" the project was stupid.

Second, the proposal wasn't concretized into a resolution. What the City Council decided was to hold an executive session to look further into the issue. The "stupidity" didn't land into a formal piece of legislation.

Councilor Jocelyn Pesquera, a lawyer, must know the mayor, also a lawyer, can hide behind the imperative of precision in language.

Yet an idea and the person pushing the idea are almost always confused in a debate or conversation. Call stupid the mayor's catch-phrases "Singapore-like Cebu City" and "Gubat sa Baha" and you also imply that their author is stupid.

ATTACK ON COUNCILORS. The technicality aside, the mayor's comment on the scrap-BRT proposal was an attack on Councilors Pesquera and James Anthony Cuenco. "

Yet the exposure of alleged "lapses and issues" regarding the BRT were worthy of attention and review. That was far from stupid.

Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival Sr. and the rest of the Sanggunian apparently didn't see it as stupid. Archival moved for, and the City Council decided to hold, an executive session with representatives from Neda, Department of Transportation and World Bank "to shed light on BRT concerns." Would the local legislature pursue a stupid thing?

Councilors Joy and James may just have used the stop-BRT card to lend weight to the principal message: the alleged failure of BRT. The call for stoppage may just be to "dramatize" the problem, a favorite device among politicians.

HE TOOK IT PERSONALLY. Mayor Mike indeed considered the critique seriously. But he didn't -- or is yet to -- look at the two councilors' volley of criticism at the project. Instead, he likened the call for the stoppage of the project to a summon for "scrapping him, former mayor (Tomas) Osmena and the late mayor Edgardo Labella."

The mayor considered the word "scrap" offensive, "very offensive." A favorite of news media -- particularly headline writers because it is short -- the word "scrap" carries no offensive meaning other than what it says up front: to discard or remove from service. Mayor Mike must take it literally: to convert to scrap metal, which evokes the image of himself, Tomas and Edgar being sold for scrap and the junkyard.

IMPRACTICAL IDEA, YET CONCERN IS VALID. The mayor is right about the BRT on something other than his and two other mayors' personal attachment to the project. It has taken several years to gestate and come to where it is now. It involved a lengthy study and review and lots of money aside from contractual commitments.

Which would make impractical aborting the project at this stage. Unwise even, but not stupid.

The valid concern of the councilors is that there are serious doubts about BRT as a mode of mass transport in certain cities, following reported failures in a number of countries. A telling fact was that the BRT's 2014 feasibility study didn't reflect the "dramatic increase in the number of vehicles" from 2013 to 2017, a concern raised anew by Councilor Cuenco at the Sanggunian.

Should the City wait for the project to be completed for its fear of BRT failure to be removed or validated?

PROPOSAL TO SCRAP NOT NEW. Last April 11, 2018, then Department of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, supported by then presidential assistant Michael Dino, recommended the cancellation of the BRT, arguing that Cebu City's roads are "so narrow that such a system would be inefficient here."

Delays of the project, as of that year, already cost P14.48 million in commitment fees and P2.95 million in service fees. It was noted then that the project lacked seven consultants, which could mean the flaws then were not even seen and considered for correction.

HOW ABOUT A REVIEW TO CORRECT? They belong to one party: the dominant Barug, and Mayor Mike is both titular and highest elected leader from that party. Councilor Joy is majority floor leader who's in fact the most powerful councilor in the current legislature. Councilor James is chairman of the committee on transportation and represents the Cuenco faction in the Barug alliance.

They don't have to call one another names. ("Stupid" ranks next to "idiotic" in the ranks of slander.) They may, once appeased and pacified, look at the alleged defects and see, under the contract or an amended one, if they can be corrected.

While the work is going on, not after it is completed.

They may yet avoid the BRT from figuratively going to scrap by changing what can be un-stupidly changed now.


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